This is the twenty-sixth issue of Voices From the Past. My goal for each issue is to publish some highlights of one of my historical stories as well as an update on my activities. Please feel free to forward this e-newsletter to anyone you think might be interested.
Cathy in the Kitchen
I like to tell stories about family and friends who have died
as a way of honoring them and celebrating their lives, and as
a way to keep memories of them alive. I share them with you in
hopes that they will remind you of your stories that you need
This story is about a woman who was my best friend for 15 years.
My friend Cathy Chalek really enjoyed doing things for her many
friends. She would listen to us tell her about our lives, and
laugh or commiserate with us, as appropriate. She would lend us
books from her large collection, books she thought we could useor
would enjoy. (But rarely would she lend out any of her first edition
mystery novels.) She would embroider counted cross-stitch gifts
for us. And she would bake delicious desserts, to celebrate the
events of our lives
Cathy was a very good cook. And she had a very well-equipped kitchen
in which to bake. She would never use anything twice while
baking. If she used one measuring cup to measure the flour, she
couldn't use it to measure the sugar. It was some sort of rule
she had, or something... So this meant that when she finished
making a delicious dessert, every surface in her kitchen would
be covered by dirty dishes. But that was OK, because she had something
else in her kitchen - her wonderful husband, Carl, who would clean
up after her.
Now I can remember two times when this pattern of delicious dessert
followed by a general disaster area was not followed.
The first incident was when she made a bombe aux trois chocolats
in honor of Carl and me finishing our masters degrees. This is
a French recipe by Julia Childs involving 3 chocolates, which
was extremely appropriate since Carl and I are chocoholics. First
you make brownies; when they are cool, you cut them up to fit
in a mixing bowl, saving a large circle to fit on top like a lid.
But before putting the lid on, you make chocolate mousse. Not
a simple chocolate mousse, but a complicated one - first you make
a creme anglais, then go on from there. After you fill
up the brownie shell with the mousse, you put the lid on top and
chill it. Then you unmold it onto a plate, and make a chocolate
glaze, which hardened to almost a candy shell, to drizzle over
the top. And with all that chocolate, you had to serve
it with whipped cream.
I always tried to get all three kinds of chocolate, the chewy
brownie, the smooth, sweet mousse and the crisp glaze, plus some
whipped cream, in every mouthful. It really was as delicious as
it sounds. (My mouth waters whenever I get to this part.)
And as part of her gift to Carl, Cathy actually cleaned up after
The second incident that didn't follow the pattern was when Cathy
made an angel food cake, requested by our friend Tom Evans for
his birthday. Cathy had never made an angel food cake before --
she even had to go out and buy a tube pan. But since she was a
good cook, she didn't think she'd have any problems.
When she finished whipping all the eggs whites and everything
else to make the batter, she poured the batter into her new tube
pan. Now Cathy thought it was strange that the batter came to
within an inch of the top of the pan. Generally cake batter only
comes slightly above the middle of the pan. When a cake bakes,
it first rises, then the heat solidifies it. But then she thought
that maybe an angel food cake got all its height from the beaten
eggs whites, and that the cake wouldn't rise in the oven, it would
just solidify. So she put the cake in the oven, and set the timer.
Then she went off to do one of her favorite things. She found
a warm, sunny spot in her house, settled down in a comfy chair
with one of her cats on her lap, and startedto read one of her
first edition mystery novels, while waiting for those first whiffs
of baked cake to drift into the room. Cathy just luxuriated in
doing things like this. I always suspected that she had been a
cat in several of her previous lives. But she also had
to have been an aquatic animal sometime, because she also loved
to read while soaking in the bathtub...
Anyway, there she was reading while waiting for the kitchen timer
to go off, when SUDDENLY the kitchen smoke detector went off instead.
The cat went flying and Cathy and Carl ran to the kitchen which
was filled with smoke. When they opened the oven door, even more
smoke poured out. Then they could see what had happened. Her angel
food cake had risen, and gone over the sides of the pan. Some
of the batter clung to the sides of the pan, some hung from the
oven shelf, and some had landed on the floor of the oven. And
the batter that had landed on the heating element was causing
all the smoke.
And as Cathy and Carl watched, the angel food cake continued to
erupt. Cathy had made a volcano in her very own oven! When she
saw this, she started to laugh. And before she would let Carl
start cleaning up, she had to take a Polaroid picture of it.
Then, as usual, Carl cleaned up while Cathy went shopping for
a full-sized tube pan (somehow she had purchased an undersized
tube pan) and more ingredients. Then she made her second angel
food cake in time for Tom Evan's party. And as usual, it was delicious.
The next day, at the lunch table at work, she told everyone the
whole story, complete with picture.
So for the rest of her life, Cathy continued listen to her friends,
loan us books, make counted cross-stitch gifts and bake delicious
desserts for us (and Carl continued on cleaning up after her).
But never again did she made anything as humorous and memorable
as her angel food volcano cake.
I'll also be telling scary stories with my friend Mary Murphy in October:
Starting in November, I'll be booking my new program Chocolate Delights where each story has a touch of chocolate in it. Stories include: some short stories about chocolate from history, including the tale of the Bishop of New Orleans who banned it from being drunk during Mass; the story of how Eskimo pies were created; a story about Kateís best friend who had a kitchen catastrophe; my version of the story of the
Candy Bomber during the Berlin Blockage 1948-1949 (see below for another version of this story) and others. Hopefully the groups which invite me to tell these stories will supply us with chocolate delights to eat after the program - yum :-)
Thanks for reading this issue. Iíll be sending you some more story highlights in a few months.